Fun, but not just fun

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A workshop in Ho Chi Minh City where members of Noridan a group of socially and environmentally-conscious artists from South Korea, make instruments and other objects from discarded items with their Vietnamese counterparts of independent art group ZeroStation for the project of "When Everything Becomes Music" / PHOTOS: TUAN ANH

It was about 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, and Ho Chi Minh City was as gloomy as it has been since the rainy season started here a few months ago.

The city was soaked by the endless rains.

But at a communal public courtyard in Nam Ky Khoi Nghia Street, District 3, things were different.

Noridan   a group of socially and environmentally-conscious artists from South Korea, and ZeroStation   an independent Vietnamese art group   were putting together the final event of their project titled "When Everything Becomes Music."

Strings of twinkle lights were hung from a central pole to around houses' balconies. Fire from a barbecue corner also illuminated the grounds.

The main liveliness of the scene, however, came from a group of adults and children who were dancing around the pole with two giant puppets made from discarded materials like bags, plastic containers, empty cans, and scraps of fabric.

Some of them were foreigners who were playing instruments that were also made of recycled things such as empty bottles and beer cans.

The dancers laughed and improvised their movements. Sometimes, they would stop and pull people from the audience into the circle to dance with them.

The audience, mostly local residents, watched the dancers, many of whom were their children, and also laughed and clapped hands with the rhythm.

Occasionally, some of the audience members would run home to ask their family members to join them. Meanwhile, other residents whose houses faced the courtyard watched the performance from their balconies.

"It is so fun! It is so wonderful!" exclaimed Ngoc, a middle-aged onlooker who was carrying a little girl in her arms. 

The joy and excitement that Ngoc and her neighbors was the fruition of a project launched by Noridan and ZeroStation to bring both arts and music, as well as recycling culture to local communities.

Staying power

The three-week project was not only about the immediate fun.

Park Tae Joo, leader of the Noridan group and better known as Tashi, said he hoped what they did would "make people feel different about their daily lives."

By being exposed to what Noridan members did with discarded items and how they had fun with "recycled" instruments, local people, especially children, would hopefully be inspired by the ingenuity, industriousness and resourcefulness, he explained.

He said the instruments and objects they made were not only for the final event, but also for "continuous use in the future." He said they could be displayed as works of art, or people could continue to "have fun" with them later, Tashi said.

During the project that began on August 31, the six members of Noridan managed to draw interest from people who live in the neighborhood around the courtyard and engage them in the project.

Every morning the foreign artists walked around the area and other residential communities in the city to ask for old and unwanted things from local people.

Tashi said they communicated with locals mainly with help of their Vietnamese counterparts.

But, there were times they had to do it by themselves, and even without speaking the same language, they were still able to get things they wanted, because "when we were open to people, they would respond to us," he said.

In the afternoon, from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m., they gathered at ZeroStation's office nearby, making instruments and other objects   like a large cyclo and the two puppets   from things they collected.

Tashi said that when they first brought their creations outside, people did not understand what they were doing, so they stood afar and watched with curiosity.

"But, later the distance was closer. Sometimes, they asked us [about what we were doing] in Vietnamese. Sometimes, they wanted to try doing it, especially children.


Noridan, in which "nori" means "play" and "dan" means "group," was founded by a group of artists and youths in 2004.

In 2007, the Ministry of Labor of South Korea recognized the group as a social enterprise that works to promote social vitality and sustainable lifestyles. With the slogan "We play, imagine and recycle," Noridan creates cultural and artistic products through design and performance art.

According to Tashi, during the project only one man who lived nearby came to ask them to stop playing drums because it was noisy. However, a few days later, he returned with his son who then joined them in making and playing instruments.

In fact, speaking to Vietweek, many residents said they did not mind the Korean artists' presence and noise they caused.

"This area is so quiet, we need some noise," said an old woman who has lived there since 1959.

Toan, a local man, meanwhile, said he actually did not find it noisy, adding that it is "good" that the foreigners could turn thrown-away things into instruments.

Loan, another resident, also said that since she is at work the whole day, she is fine with it. She said that when she's off work and at home for the weekend, she took her children to the ZeroStation office to watch the foreigners make instruments.

"It looked fun," she said.

Truong Minh Quy, a member of ZeroStation who worked as the project's coordinator, said they did not set criteria for identifying the project's failure or success.

What they cared about was how it would change each person who was engaged in the project, and the quarter's atmosphere.

After three weeks, Noridan became a member of the community. Children played with the Korean artists with ease while adults who were at first confused by their presence became interested, said Quy.

"Local residents do not need to know Korean, and Noridan do not need to know Vietnamese, but they can smile at each other and say hello."


Tashi said that for previous projects they organized in countries like China, France, the UK, and the US, all they did was "go there, have our instruments shipped, perform, have fun, and come back."

What they did in Vietnam collecting items, making instruments on site and organizing free-of-charge performances had been done only once before at Japan's "zero waste village" (Kamikatsu village in southwestern part of Japan) in 2007, he said.

Noridan's project in Vietnam was initiated after the group's members met Nguyen Nhu Huy, artistic director of ZeroStation, at the art festival Busan Biennale last year. They then applied for funds for the project with the Busan Cultural Foundation.

"An important theme for Noridan group is "˜learn from experience, and after experience, should share the know-how with people.' The project in Vietnam is a really good chance to prove that theme," Tashi said.

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